ZURICH (Reuters) - Christoph Blocher, the combative populist who helped make the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) the dominant force in the Alpine nation’s politics, will relinquish his last political post this year, he told a newspaper.
To his fans, Blocher is a heroic defender of traditional Swiss values who has developed a niche party of farmers and small businessmen into a Swiss political powerhouse. To critics he is a divisive figure whose anti-immigration policies have destabilised a once-safe haven for companies and investors.
Under Blocher’s influence, the SVP has shaken up the cosy, consensual system prevailing in Switzerland since the end of World War Two.
The SVP was the driving force behind a 2014 referendum which has forced the government to introduce new limits on immigration, threatening Swiss ties with the EU.
“I will no longer be deputy chairman of the SVP from April,” billionaire Blocher, 75, told SonntagsBlick in a report published on Sunday.
The paper noted he needed emergency hospital treatment after injuring his shoulder in a recent fall. “I belong on the scrap heap,” it quoted him as saying.
His departure, and news that party leader Toni Brunner will not stand again, open a new chapter for the SVP, which cemented its role as a leading force in Swiss politics in elections last year that paved the way for it to take a second seat in the seven-member cabinet.
Fighting what he saw as neutral Switzerland’s drift towards the European Union became a mission for ex-justice minister Blocher, even if this jeopardised treaties that bind the landlocked republic to its neighbours.
Ejected from the cabinet by parliament in 2007, Blocher resigned from the national assembly in 2014 to spend more time furthering his policies through popular initiatives or referendums, a particular feature of Swiss politics.
In a “Save Our Swiss Gold” initiative, several prominent SVP politicians failed to force the Swiss National Bank to buy vast quantities of the precious metal despite warnings from the central bank that it would cripple its monetary policy.
Such polarising moves have made it hard for the SVP to forge alliances in Berne, even though it is the largest party.
The son of a pastor, Blocher was born in 1940 in a village on the Rhine river, the seventh of 11 children. He studied agriculture and law, later buying EMS Chemie, an export-reliant maker of adhesives and coatings.
He was not immediately available by phone or email on Sunday.
Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Ros Russell